b. Irene Marie Dunn, 20 December 1898, Louisville, Kentucky, USA, d. 4 September 1990, Los Angeles, California, USA. After studying at the Chicago Musical College, Dunne tried unsuccessfully to become an opera singer. Instead, her long and hugely successful career began in musical comedies. She played in a touring company version of Irene (1920), and then in New York productions of The Clinging Vine (1922) and The City Chap (1925). She was in a Florenz Ziegfeld touring company production of Jerome Kern’s Show Boat (1929), playing Magnolia, when she attracted the composer’s attention. It was through his insistence that she gained the title role in the film version of his Sweet Adeline (1935), with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, which was followed quickly by more films with Kern music: Roberta (1935), Show Boat (1936) and High, Wide And Handsome (1937), the latter two with lyrics by Hammerstein.
Dunne made more appearances in screen musicals, notably Joy Of Living (1938) and Love Affair (1939), but then turned almost exclusively to straight dramatic roles becoming in the process one of Hollywood’s most respected actresses. She was nominated unsuccessfully five times as Best Actress. Among her non-musical films are Cimarron (1931), The Awful Truth (1937), Anna And The King Of Siam (1946), Life With Father (1947), I Remember Mama (1948), and The Mudlark (1950). Also in 1950 Dunne made her only return to a musical film, co-starring with Fred MacMurray in Never A Dull Moment. Following her retirement from films in 1952, she worked in politics, being appointed by President Eisenhower in 1957 as an alternate delegate to the United Nations, and in commerce, being on the board of Technicolor Inc. In 1985, Dunne was honoured by the Kennedy Center for her achievements in the performing arts.